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AFB  ®
Technology News for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
From the American Foundation for the Blind
 March 2008 Issue  Volume 9  Number 2

Product Evaluation

Scanning and Reading on the Move: A Review of Zoom-Ex and Zoom-Twix

As part of AccessWorld's ongoing efforts to keep our readers abreast of options in assistive technology for people with low vision, we published a series of articles in May, July and September, 2006, on laptop-compatible closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) entitled, "Is This for Here or to Go?" As the demand for portable magnification continues to increase, more manufacturers are working to supply products to meet this market's need, resulting in additional models of laptop-compatible CCTVs with an ever-increasing number of features from which people with low vision can now choose. In this article, we take a closer look at two more such devices, the Zoom-Ex and Zoom-Twix, both from ABISee.

ABISee is a relative newcomer to the field of assistive technology for people who are blind or have low vision. The Zoom-Ex is a portable, 1-pound, L-shaped, computer-compatible document scanner that converts the scanned page to speech, and magnifies and wraps the lines on the screen to eliminate the need for an x-y table. The second device, the Zoom-Twix, incorporates the physical design and features of the Zoom-Ex and facilitates live-distance, desktop, and self-viewing through the addition of a second camera that is attached to the Zoom-Ex stand.

To conduct these evaluations, I set up the device at my desk and used it to do my daily office work and conduct specific tests. This way, I learned firsthand the characteristics of the Zoom-Ex and its optional second, "Frog Camera," as ABISee calls it, which makes it the Zoom-Twix.

Because of the emphasis on portability, most people will use the device with a laptop computer. Therefore, I used an IBM ThinkPad laptop running Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2, with an Intel Core Duo CPU with a 2.2 GHz processor, and 1.9 6GB of Ram. ZoomText 9.1 was also used in conjunction with the Zoom software to conduct the testing. The device was evaluated in four main areas: documentation, software installation and setup, minimum computer requirements and product design, and features.

Zoom-Ex and Zoom-Twix

The Zoom-Ex is shipped with a cloth carrying bag, the folding camera arm with a camera head, the cables for connecting it to a computer, a software installation and setup guide, two Quick Reference Guides for keyboard commands, and the software installation CD. The Zoom-Twix also comes with the second camera, which adds additional viewing functionality.

A man reading a book placed under the Zoom-Ex camera.

Caption: Reading a book with Zoom-Ex.

Documentation

The 11-page Software Installation Guide is detailed and walks you through each specific step of the software installation process, including the New Hardware Wizard. The Installation Guide is written so even people who are not computer savvy will understand and be able to complete the installation process. The problem is that the Software Installation Guide is printed in standard 12-point type, which is too small for most people with low vision to read. The guide also contains drawings and examples of dialogue boxes that are small and may not be readable by many people with low vision who purchase the product. Unless they already have a magnification device, it will be difficult for them to read the instructions that are needed to set up the device independently.

The Quick Resource Guide for Keyboard Commands is provided in a larger print format and lists all the hot keys and their functions. This list can be useful, especially when you first learn to use the devices, because there are no controls on the devices and all features are controlled through the mouse or keyboard commands.

The Zoom-Ex User Manual is presented in two versions, one for people who are blind and another for people with low vision. The User Manual for people who are blind concentrates on describing features that will be useful to people who use nonvisual techniques to operate the device. The pictures have been removed, and the User Manual discusses using the device from the perspective of a person who is blind. This User Manual is available in electronic format on the software installation CD or in braille upon request.

The User Manual for people with low vision is available on the software installation CD and, like the version for blind users, is formatted so you can use the table of contents and links within its text to jump to specific sections of the document. Both manuals have a "Familiarizing Yourself with Zoom-Ex" section. This section allows you to practice viewing and listening to documents saved by the manufacturer to help prepare you to create, view, and listen to your own documents.

The 28-page User Manual is in 12-point type, although, because it is in electronic format, it can be altered and printed in a larger size. This is a problem if you do not have a printer connected to your computer at the time of installation. Most people with low vision would prefer a spiral-bound, large-print manual in addition to the electronic version, even if it means additional pages. Having to make alterations to and print the User Manual or switch back and fourth between the application and the electronic manual adds a layer of inconvenience when you are learning to use the device and its many features. The User Manuals, Quick Reference Guides for Keyboard Commands, Software Installation Instructions, Frequently Asked Questions, and other helpful supplementary documents are also available for download from the ABISee website at www.abisee.com.

Software Installation and Setup

Installing Zoom software and setting up the product are straightforward procedures. The installation and device setup instructions that are provided with the device are easy to understand and follow, as are the software installation instructions on the screen. There is a potential challenge, though. That is, the dialogue boxes that are displayed onscreen during the installation are larger than the standard computer font, but not large enough for many with low vision to read, and they are not self-voicing. Screen-magnification programs, such as ZoomText, will magnify the instructions on screen, but will not read them aloud.

Minimum Computer Requirements and Product Design

According to ABISee, to use either device you need an IBM-compatible desktop or laptop computer running Windows XP (strongly recommended) or Vista. The computer must have one integrated high-speed USB 2.0 port to use the Zoom-Ex or two high-speed USB 2.0 ports to use the Zoom-Twix. A Pentium 1.3 GHz processor or equivalent AMD processor with a minimum of 256 MB of working memory (RAM) and a minimum of 30 MB of free disk space on your hard drive for the software is needed. Additional space is needed for saving documents or books or images that are captured from the Zoom-Twix's Frog Camera.

The device weighs approximately 1 pound and stands approximately 16 inches high. Its two "legs" fold out to form a right angle and provide the support for the device. The right angle formed by the supports provides the guide for proper placement of documents to be captured. You align the page with the supports, and the document is in position to be scanned or viewed by the camera. If you are using the Zoom-Twix, its adjustable Frog Camera attaches 11 inches high on the vertical support and provides distant views for zooming in on a chalkboard or watching a presentation. It also allows you to handwrite and complete forms more easily and enables self-viewing.

The device is connected to and derives its power from your desktop or laptop computer via the USB 2.0 port. There is no external battery or AC adapter. The device folds down like an umbrella and slips into a cloth carrying bag that will fit into most standard laptop bags.

The folded Zoom-Ex being held in a man's hand.

Caption: Zoom-Ex folds down to a portable, umbrella-like device weighing less than two pounds.

Features

Zoom-Ex and Zoom-Twix have many features. The best way to describe them is with seven words: view, capture, format, read, listen, save, and organize.

Using the Zoom-Ex, when you place a document under its camera, you can choose to view it in Magnified (CCTV) mode and use the mouse or arrow keys to move the document electronically around on the screen. The actual paper does not move, and no x-y table is used. You can also format a document into a column of text, word wrapped to fit your screen, like on a teleprompter, and read the text onscreen at a magnification level of your choosing and use a high-contrast color combination to view the text if you like. You can then decide to listen to the text read aloud to you in a voice and at a speed of your choosing, where the spoken word is highlighted so you can follow along. After reading or listening to the text read aloud, you can save the document for later use and organize your saved documents to suit your needs.

Another main feature of the device is the ability to scan and save entire books, regardless of the number of pages. Using this feature, you can choose to scan a book page by page or, with a paperback-size book, two pages at once. Unlike traditional scanners that take approximately 30 seconds to scan a page, Zoom-Ex can scan a page in 3 seconds.

When scanning the book, you do not need to move it, just turn the pages. The book can be scanned manually with one mouse click or key press per page, or it can be scanned in Auto mode. When you use Auto mode, you just turn the page, and the camera with motion-detection functionality knows when to snap the picture. When the page is scanned, you will hear a snapshot sound to provide auditory confirmation that the page has been scanned. It may take you 10 to 15 minutes to scan a 200-page book, but after that, as with a single document, you can format it to a larger-size type on the screen and have it read aloud to you page by page.

Once you begin reading or listening to the book, you can stop at any point and then come back to it later and pick up where you left off. Multiple books can be saved to your computer, and they can be organized to suit your needs.

The electronic book that you create can also be saved to a CD-RW or flash drive and taken with you. The electronic book can be read on any computer with the Zoom software loaded on it, without the need to have the Zoom-Ex or Zoom-Twix device connected.

Another use for the device is to create large-print documents. By placing a document under the camera and formatting it on the screen, you can create large-print documents or books in the size and color that you need. Documents that are scanned with Zoom-Ex can also be converted into text files that can be used in such applications as Word and Excel.

The Frog Camera of the Zoom-Twix provides the features that are familiar to the user of a more traditional style CCTV. It allows you to handwrite under the camera, such as writing checks or addressing cards, and to see distant objects, people, or items like classroom chalkboards up close on the laptop's screen. The images from the Frog Camera can be captured and saved to a file on your computer for later reference. The camera can also be tilted or positioned for self-viewing.

What Would Make It Better

The Zoom-Ex and Zoom-Twix offer valuable tools for people with various levels of visual impairment and do so in a portable device. As with all products, however, there is some room for improvement. The following are areas in which I believe the devices could be improved.

  1. The User Manuals for the devices could be improved to provide a better explanation of how to use the product. The format of the electronic manuals is good in that it allows you to jump to specific sections, but the manual could be streamlined. Some information is repeated, some items seem explained down to small details, almost over explained, while others could use more clarification.
  2. When Zoom-Ex is used in the Magnification (CCTV) mode to view saved documents, the image is not always as sharp and clear as it could be. The image can, of course, be formatted into a high-contrast word-wrapped image, but it is not the original image that some would like to see.
  3. I also had some difficulty clearly viewing round cans and bottles, especially ones with metallic or shiny plastic labels. This problem is not uncommon with CCTVs, especially when you use high-contrast display modes. I believe that improving this aspect of the Zoom-Ex camera would make the device more usable.
  4. One significant improvement would be to increase the stability of the physical design. At first, I did not think that stability would be an issue, but in real-world situations, the device will be bumped, for example, if you brush a book against its upright support or bump the camera arm as you standup from your desk. The device tends to fall backward or to the left, which could easily cause damage to the Zoom-Ex or Frog Camera. Finding the right balance between portability and stability is not always easy, and I believe that more work needs to be done in this regard.

The Bottom Line

If your work or schooling requires you to read a good bit of text, or if it is difficult to find leisure reading books in alternative formats and you need to create your own, the Zoom-Ex or Zoom-Twix is an option to consider.

It is important to keep in mind that these devices are used in conjunction with a computer, so computer literacy is important. This is not your father's CCTV. These devices, like other computer-compatible CCTVs, are somewhat more complex because of the number of features and their ability to save and organize files. The Zoom-Ex and Zoom-Twix have a number of keyboard commands to memorize, and it will require some practice to learn to use either device efficiently.

Manufacturer's Comments

ABISee

"We thank Lee Huffman for his review. His suggestions will be easy to implement; think of it as done. Note that Zoom-Ex is not a CCTV. It has line-wrapping software that allows the low-vision user to keep reading his printed page without moving or even touching it, just scroll down the screen. The magnified lines don't run off the screen because they are reformatted into a single column that is screen-wide. The whole printed page is in the memory, and for the blind users it converts to speech within 3 seconds. A Braille output model will be available by the time this review is published. Both low vision and blind users find Zoom-Ex uniquely convenient.

"Zoom-Ex and Zoom-Twix are a result of extensive research and development by ABISee engineers. We realized that simply taking off-the-shelf OCR, camera, and software and putting them together in one box would not create the right solution. Therefore, we developed our patented technology that suites the needs of both blind and low vision people.

"Zoom-Twix is more than Zoom-Ex. It makes a low vision student fully functional in the classroom environment. With one key stroke Zoom-Twix, like Zoom-Ex, instantly magnifies any printed material and wraps the lines on the screen. With another key stroke, the user can see the blackboard magnified on the laptop screen in real time--no need to flip the camera, it has two.

"Zoom-Ex scans books, 20 pages per minute, and converts them to text. Those scanned pages can be printed out in large font, which would be impossible without its line wrapping software. As to the blind users, in today's busy world it takes Zoom-Ex just a few seconds to scan the printed page, process it, and start speaking."

Product Information

Product: Zoom-Ex and Zoom-Twix.

Manufacturer: ABISee
Address: 141 Parker Street, Suite 201, Maynard, MA 01754; phone: 800-681-5909; web site: www.abisee.com.

Price: Zoom-Ex, $2,400; Zoom-Twix (with additional Frog Camera), $3,500.


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Copyright © 2008 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved. AccessWorld is a trademark of the American Foundation for the Blind.

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